Neal Purvis And Robert Wade: Unsung Heroes

Eon invited Neal Purvis and Robert Wade to their offices in Mayfair whilst development for the 19th Bond film began. Barbara Broccoli, who produced the previous two films with Michael G. Wilson after taking over for her father Cubby Broccoli, came up with an idea whilst watching a documentary about oil companies on a flight to Miami. The duo had just completed screenwriting work on a 1999 film called Plunkett And Macleane.  Purvis wanted a female villain, something that the franchise previously never had although it’s debatable whether it was Rosa Klebb or Red Grant as the main antagonist in ‘From Russia With Love’. There had been a handful of female henchmen including May Day as portrayed by Grace Jones in A View To A Kill (1985) and Xenia Zaragevna Onatopp played by Famke Janssen in GoldenEye (1995). To have a female main villain is as much as a huge turning point as having a female M.  Throughout its storied history, the Bond franchise has always striven to adapt with the times.

Neal Purvis and Robert Wade

According to The World is Not Enough Companion book by Ian Johnson, both Purvis and Wade told Brosnan the story outline and said that they “wanted to give it more of a Hitchcockian feel to it.  They wanted more drama, emotions and characters than spraying bullets.” During The Making of The World is Not Enough documentary, Brosnan indicated that he wanted to ‘work on people and peel back the layers of the character’ and somewhat explore other sides to Bond.

The writing duo really wanted to expand on Dench’s character who then subsequently played a big part in the film’s plot. The audience would see Bond become emotionally attached to Electra who would turn out be the main villain. ‘The World Is Not Enough’ isn’t a love story and doesn’t compare to the love story first seen in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or that of 2006’s ‘Casino Royale’ but there’s enough there to tell us that Bond had fallen for a woman who was once kidnapped and then had to shoot her to save the world from catastrophic meltdown.  Both Purvis and Wade watched OHMSS for inspiration and to develop the emotional side. Even though both Purvis and Wade are credited for the story along with Bruce Fierstein, Dana Stevens, Michael Apted’s then-wife strengthened the character of Elektra and worked on the relationship between her and M whilst Fierstein returned to polish Bond’s dialogue. Stevens’s work subsequently went un-credited.

The film that followed ‘The World Is Not Enough’ began with the right intentions. Purvis and Wade wanted to carry the emotional themes throughout and continue to explore different sides of Bond. In the 2012 Everything or Nothing Bond documentary, Barbara Broccoli said she always makes the point of ‘looking at where Bond is emotionally’ when planning a new Bond film and how to portray that through the films.  This is something that wasn’t really focused on in the pre-Brosnan films.  ‘Die Another Day’ was originally supposed to be a dark and gritty spy thriller that dealt with themes of betrayal.  Within the first half an hour Bond gets captured, tortured, and then exchanged.  We also see him sporting a Robinson Crusoe hairstyle. Something Bond fans have never seen before. Even though ‘Die Another Day’ is considered to be the marmite of the series it really did have some great potential.

Robert Wade working on Die Another Day. Note the You Only Live Twice novel

As they worked on ‘Die Another Day’, Purvis and Wade read the Fleming novel ‘You Only Live Twice’ for inspiration. In fact, Miranda Frost was originally going to be called Gala Brand. So what exactly went wrong with ‘Die Another Day’?  Well the creative choices of director Lee Tamahori enabled the film to drift away from the vision Purvis and Wade initially put forth.

Some Bond enthusiasts are somewhat bored of the Purvis and Wade collaboration and count Die Another Day as a strike against the perennial Bond writing team. I happen to disagree and believe they have done a good job during the most challenging times introducing a first female villain, learning from the mishandling of ‘Die Another Day, ’ and eventually helping to set the stage for the debut of a new Bond actor in Daniel Craig.

After September 11th 2001, the threats were now real and the producers didn’t know where to take the franchise. ‘While you were away the world changed’ remarked M.  Was this a reference to the real life tragedy and happenings?  In 2004 Purvis and Wade were asked back to adapt ‘Casino Royale’ with Brosnan still in mind as by then he hadn’t been let go.  It would be interesting to see those early drafts!

After the success of ‘Batman Begins’, a film that may be considered as the father of reboots, ‘Casino Royale’ followed suit.  The choice was ultimately made to let Brosnan go and Eon finally obtained the option to adapt Casino Royale, the very first Bond novel by Ian Fleming. The slate was wiped clean and what went before had to be ignored in order for this ‘new’ concept to work.  With this being a reboot, it was the first time we saw Bond earn his double o prefix and licence to kill, events which were recounted during the novel.

Purvis and Wade went to work on developing Casino Royale maintaining elements of the novel that could be updated while also adding original material that could work with its modern day setting. Joining the writing duo on the film was award winning screenwriter Paul Haggis who wrote, produced and directed the 2004 film ‘Crash’ and had written and produced ‘Million Dollar Baby’.  He was brought in to do a script polish and wrote the climax in the Venetian villa.  Boosted by the brilliant direction of Martin Campbell this collaborative effort resulted in a film that was quintessentially Fleming’s Bond at his most violent at toughest yet.  Besides focusing on Bond earning his licence to kill, a back story was created for Le Chiffre to explain why he had to win money back at Casino Royale.  In the novel Le Chiffre was working for SMERSH, something that no longer exists. Purvis and Wade were also adamant that the infamous torture sequence and the line ‘The bitch is dead’ had to be in the film. For Bond to say that line on screen summed up everything about Bond’s emotions.

Not only was ‘Casino Royale’ a reboot and the debut film for Daniel Craig but also the first film in a while to receive a true sequel and to have story arc.  ‘From Russia With Love’ can be considered as a sequel to ‘Dr No’, as the events are mentioned and Bond is seen with Sylvia Trench, a character that was intended to have a cameo in every film. Instead of Bond wanting revenge, however, it was the enemy (S.P.E.C.T.R.E) that wanted revenge for the death of Dr No. Whilst ‘Casino Royale’ was in pre production, Michael Wilson had announced that the next film would be a direct sequel.

Wilson came up with a story idea and by April 2007 Purvis and Wade developed it completing the first draft hinting that it would be based on some of Fleming’s short stories. Rumours of the film being called ‘Risico’ were promptly shut down. Unfortunately their idea never materialised as Paul Haggis was bought in to rewrite it. Haggis wanted Bond to track down Vesper’s child, but the producers rejected the idea. What exactly would Bond have done with a child and where would that have taken the route of the character?  Haggis also wanted the climax of the film to be in the Swiss Alps, which is a lot more plausible and ‘Bondian’ than having the hero nursing a child through out the film.

Haggis’s final draft was completed two hours before the writer’s strike, which explains why the film might seem a little rushed.  When certain scenes needed to be revised, only the director Marc Forster and Daniel Craig were allowed to rewrite scenes due to the WGA guidelines. Craig himself admitted that he was no writer.  Once the strike was lifted, Joshua Zetumer who had written a draft himself for the film was asked by Forster to polish certain scenes up.

Apart from criminally under-using the title of a Fleming short story that should have had its definition explained and having the final scene that involved a woman cohabiting with the ‘enemy’, which is taken from the short story ‘007 in New York’, nothing else seemed to coincide with Purvis’s and Wade’s original idea and one can only wonder if their original draft had been used whether the film would have been better received.  The public was expecting another ‘Casino Royale’ but were slightly flummoxed by the film resulting in mixed reactions.  With time and if watched directly after Casino Royale, I believe the film does seem to be stronger as opposed to an individual viewing.

Peter Morgan

In 2009 Barbara Broccoli announced that work on the 23rd Bond film had began development and the organisation Quantum may be in it rounding off the story arc. British screenwriter Peter Morgan, whose works include ‘The Queen’ and ‘Frost/Nixon’, wrote a script for Bond 23 that was called ‘Once Upon A Spy’.  Morgan’s story consisted of M’s past coming back to haunt her. Certain events that took place during the Cold war when M was an agent herself would culminate in Bond having to kill her.    What seems a very interesting concept didn’t appeal to the producers or Sam Mendes. The regular writing duo of Purvis and Wade were brought in to start over again. Morgan’s premise of M’s past haunting her and eventually meeting her demise was kept although the writers thought that this story element felt rather more like John Le Carre than Fleming. Morgan previously wrote the screenplay for ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ in 2008.  His would-be Bond film focused on M’s past was given the working title of Once Upon a Spy. When Purvis and Wade re-wrote the screenplay, they tentatively titled the film Nothing Is Forever.  One can wonder if he had difficulty separating James Bond from George Smiley. Purvis and Wade then came up with idea of exploring Bond’s pas, and therefore setting the climax in Bond’s ancestral home paying tribute to the seeds that Fleming had planted through out his novels. Bond’s parents, Andrew Bond and Monica De Lacroix, as well as his childhood in Glencoe before losing his parents would loom largely over the film’s final act.

As an aside, I often argue that Skyfall would have been the perfect film for Brosnan’s Bond to end on.  Firstly, it explores sides of the character that we haven’t seen before, which Brosnan was a great believer in.  We saw Bond going through different emotions and delving into his past but most of all I think it would have rounded his tenure as Bond brilliantly by cradling ‘his’ M as she passed away in his arms bringing an end to their 17 year relationship.

John Logan

Jez Butterworth and John Logan were brought in to polish the Purvis and Wade script for what would ultimately become Skyfall. Both Mendes and Logan collaborated soon after the huge success of the film on the gothic vampire TV series ‘Penny Dreadful’ starring Timothy Dalton and Eva Green.

As early as the Fall of 2012 it was announced that John Logan would be the sole writer of both Bond 24 and Bond 25. This development received a lot of speculation that it could have been a two-part story with the potential of filming two Bond films back to back.  Mendes had no intention of returning but then got excited by the prospect of introducing a certain villain and a certain organisation that hadn’t been in Bond’s universe for just over 30 years. In 2013 Eon and Danjaq LLC obtained the rights from the McClory estate to use Blofeld, S.P.E.C.T.R.E, and other characters. Mendes apparently brought back Purvis and Wade to rewrite Bond 24 and add humour.  Jez Butterworth also returned to work on rewrites on what was then Bond 24 after working on Skyfall.

I’m not sure how much of Logan’s story appeared in the final draft but his idea was to have Ralph Fiennes’s M as the villain. Fiennes reportedly refused to participate if that were to be the case. Then came the infamous Sony leaks, where major blockbuster films had confidential information released online. The Bond franchise was one of the much publicized subjects of the leaks, which revealed budgets, casting choices, and an early draft of the script that Purvis and Wade had worked on.  The version that was leaked wasn’t much different to the final version, but it did suffer what I thought was a weaker third act.  The fact that Purvis and Wade were brought in to rewrite John Logan’s work on Spectre ruled out that Logan would return as intended to pen Bond 25 and also made fans wonder whether Craig would return. One cant help but think that after 16 years, maybe Purvis and Wade seem to know the character that Fleming had written better then anyone else.  Why else would they have been asked back? And the fact that they had developed a story based on Fleming’s collection of short stories only wets the appetites of the fans.

‘SPECTRE’ is a very divisive film.  Are Purvis and Wade to blame? I don’t think so. I felt that Eon chucked everything including the kitchen sink at it in terms of Blofeld and his organisation.  It was reported that Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig had creative differences during the film and that the big chiefs at Sony also had huge input towards it.  The 24th Bond film could have been different, in terms of plot twists and surprises if the film wasn’t to have been called ‘SPECTRE’, apparently a working title for the film was called ‘The Death Collector’, a chapter title taken form the novel ‘You Only Live Twice’.  I also feel that to call the film SPECTRE instantly reveals the return of Bond’s arch nemesis.  Someone that hasn’t been around for 30 years.

Purvis and Wade were then asked to write the 25th Bond film with Paul Haggis briefly working on it before withdrawing due to personal issues. The Purvis and Wade treatment for Bond 25 was initially shelved once Danny Boyle and his ‘in house’ writer John Hodges successfully approached Eon with their idea involving Bond being potentially incarcerated and then killed. It may have been a very risky idea, but for the self-contained Craig timeline this may have been plausible and possible altyhough we may never fully know.  This initially appealed to Eon and Daniel Craig and therefore the film went into pre-production with casting calls and set construction at Pinewood Studios.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Then all of a sudden it was announced that Danny Boyle and John Hodge had left the project due to creative differences. Rumour has it that it was to do with the villain being Russian even though Boyle denied this. With Bond 25 now coming to a halt it was understood that Boyle’s and Hodge’s idea was now rejected and that Eon, alongside with Craig, would revert back to the Purvis and Wade script for Bond 25. Cary Joji Fukunaga came on board as director and would also work closely with Purvis and Wade performing his own re-writes as well.  In February 2019 it was announced that the legendary Scott Z Burns would be drafted in to polish the script.  Eon wanted Mr Burns involved with Bond for a while.  Burns previously worked on World War Z, a film by Marc Forster and did unaccredited work on Star Wars: Rogue One.  It was then later announced that British writer, star, and creator of Fleabag Phoebe Waller-Bridge would join the writing team at the request of Daniel Craig to strengthen the female characters. The final list of credited screenwriters for No Time To Die will consist of the team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Scott Z. Burns’s work on the film will go un-credited. It is unknown at this time what story elements were contributed by each individual writer, but Bond stalwarts Purvis and Wade will now have screenwriting credits for 7 Bond films, which is a considerable accomplishment even if it’s still shy of Richard Maibaum’s 13 Bond screenwriting credits.

It’s often been said that Brosnan was good but it was the scripts that let him down. I beg to differ. Purvis and Wade were invited to work on the 19th Bond film and were brave enough to suggest that they should have a female main villain, which is something that might have gone against conventional wisdom at the time. They were also tasked with changing the tonal direction of the Bond films post 9/11 and did a brilliant job modernising Fleming’s first Bond novel while writing for a new Bond. ‘Quantum of Solace’ may have been a stronger film if the director and producers had stuck to their original idea and may have avoided getting caught up in the writers strike. The writing duo was asked back to rewrite John Logan’s work for ‘SPECTRE’ and were asked back for ‘No Time To Die’. They must be doing something right to have been requested to return so many times. The Bond actors have given us their performances whilst the directors mold the final product but the stories are written around current affairs that play a crucial part in keeping the franchise up to date. We can point to the screenwriting of Purvis and Wade to see how Bond has kept up with the times to last as long as it has. Robert Wade and Neal Purvis are unsung heroes in keeping Bond going. They have done fantastic work keeping Bond moving forward despite how challenging the world has become.


Article by Matthew Grice

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